The reality of the news hit like a punch in the stomach, followed by the deep sadness we’d been holding back for almost three weeks.
Many of us held out hope that Naftali Fraenkel, 16; Gilad Shaar, 16 and Eyal Yifrah, 19, would be found alive and unharmed, rescued from their captors. But that was not to be. Such outcomes are rare in a region increasingly obsessed with violence and irrational hatred, particularly against Jews.
Despite the tragic outcome, all of the fervent rallies and heartfelt prayers and countless acts of kindness performed on behalf of the three Israeli teens were not for naught. Let those private and collective acts remind us, for all of our differences, how connected we are as a people. The long days and nights of the vigil and efforts to “Bring Our Boys Home” inspired within us a sense of our shared heritage, values and faith. We can only imagine the fear and anguish of the boys’ brave parents. We bemoan the fact that enemies of the Jewish people could rationalize as heroism the kidnapping and murder of three innocent teenagers on their way home from yeshiva for Shabbat. And we are saddened to see some in the media who, in presenting the suffering of Israeli and Palestinian families, strive so hard for symmetry that they equate those who seek — and those who mourn — the death of innocents.
In the end, the teenage boys’ crime was that they were Jews.
Beyond our grief, what are we to pray for now? Prime Minister Netanyahu has pledged that “Hamas will pay.” Surely there must be a retribution for a group that, whenever possible, acts on its sole declared aim: to destroy Israel and Jews. How best to balance revenge and restraint is the impossible challenge the government in Jerusalem and its armed forces must resolve.
Netanyahu no doubt would like to drive a wedge between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, its partner-rival. His goal is to force PA President Mahmoud Abbas to choose between the path to peace talks and the path to ongoing terror, and let the world see the results.
While some members of the coalition government in Jerusalem are calling for definitive military action, others worry that an escalation will lead only to more deaths, and hardened hearts on both sides.
For now, we humbly express our sympathy with the families of the boys and the family of Israel and the Jewish people.
And we pray that the spirit of kinship that bound us together during the 18 days of the search will remain with us — that it will be shared not only in moments of anguish but in our ongoing deliberations and debates, sometimes sharp, over how best to protect and defend the Jewish people and its only state.